Study suggests certain foods boost brain volume

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Study suggests certain foods boost brain volume

As the march of Alzheimer’s disease continues its entrenchment on the brains of our aging population with no cure in sight, what if you could stay mentally sharp by bulking up your brain?  We can do that with our muscle mass, why not our brain?  Maybe that thought is not so far-fetched after all. 

New study looks at foods boosting brain size

A new study from the Netherlands has found that people who ate diets full of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish had bigger brains than those who ate a less healthy diet.  The study included more than 4,200 people aged 45 and older with the average age of the participants being 66. 

Researchers designed the study to have the participants complete a survey of almost 400 food items.  Each volunteer gave their answers to what types of and how much food they ate over the past month.  To evaluate their answers, the researchers looked at diet quality based on Dutch dietary guidelines.  Diet quality was measured on a scale of zero to 14, with 14 being the healthiest.  The best diets were considered to be those that contained plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, dairy and fish, with limited amounts of sugary beverages. 

The study found that the average diet quality score was a 7. 

Besides evaluating diet quality, each participant had MRI scans to measure their brain size.  Also measured was their blood pressure, physical activity and if they smoked or not, all factors which could influence brain size.

Study results

Findings from the research design showed that after adjusting the data to account for factors of blood pressure, physical activity and smoking, people who had a higher diet score also had a larger brain volume.  The brains of people who ate the healthiest diets were about 2 millimeters larger than those who consumed few healthy foods.

Two millimeters may not sound like much of an increase but researchers with the study believe that this amount could translate to better thinking and memory skills.  As each of us grows older, our brain volume decreases which can increase the risk for cognitive decline.  As the study’s senior author, Dr. Meike Vernooij stated, “In our population, a one-year increase in age was associated with a decrease in total brain volume of 3.66 millimeters, so the difference in brain volume we found is in the same order of magnitude as approximately six months’ increase in age for those with the less healthy diet.”

This study however, does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.  The design of it was only to look for an association between diet and brain size.  The Mediterranean diet which emphasizes eating lots of produce, fish, and nuts, has also been found to show similar results of an increase in brain volume.  The researchers with this study suggested that the earlier in life, such as in childhood when the brain is developing and growing, could lead to a bigger brain.

It is also believed that the reason why diets composed of plenty of produce, nuts, fish, and dairy is that they improve blood flow.  Good blood flow is known for improving heart health and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.  A theory of what leads to Alzheimer’s is the buildup of amyloid and tau proteins.  If these are not cleared properly, this may be what is resulting in poor cognitive functioning.  By maintaining good blood flow of eating healthier foods, this could be one way to maintain a fully functioning brain as we age.

The brain needs adequate blood flow to enhance memory and cognitive thinking.  Many studies have been conducted demonstrating how a healthy diet with proper food choices does indeed make a remarkable difference in how we think and feel, giving us a brain boost we can benefit from.  By adding in foods to boost brain health, this is one way we can participate in keeping our brains healthy.

 5 brain boosting foods

1.     Go for the greens

It’s good to be green and it’s very good to eat greens.  Look in your food cart and see how many foods you choose that are green.  All that green means antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and tons of important vitamins and nutrients.   The darker the green the better – choose spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, Romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.  Include these foods in a stir-fry or try roasted for a delicious change of pace.

2.  Blueberries

Having a handful (at least) of blueberries each day is a great way to work on keeping your brain healthy.  This antioxidant packed berry helps support brain health increasing cognitive abilities.   Several studies, including a 2012 review, found regular consumption of blueberries may be one strategy to forestall or even reverse age-related neuronal deficits.  The polyphenolic compounds found in this sweet berry help lower oxidative stress and inflammation - they destroy free radicals that cause damage at the cellular level of all organs including brain cells. 

3.  Salmon

This deep-water fish is brimming with essential omega-3 fatty acids necessary for brain functioning.  Omega-3’s also contain anti-inflammatory substances protecting the brain keeping it mentally sharp.  A couple of fist-sized portions twice a week of salmon – canned or fresh – should be part of your healthy meal plan

4.  Avocados

This fatty fruit is loaded with good-for-you monounsaturated fat contributing to healthy blood flow leading to a healthy brain.  They also help lower blood pressure or hypertension which is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities of the brain.  Even though high in calories, adding ¼ to ½ of an avocado each day is an easy way to fight off age-related changes keeping your brain sharp as a tack. 

5.  Nuts

Ever so popular, nuts are known for not only their heart healthy nutritional punch but now also for their brain health boost.  Thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids they contain, these fats are necessary for neuron growth and plasticity possibly fighting against age-related changes.  Our bodies do not make omega-3 fatty acids so they must be obtained from our diet.  One of the best sources of omega-3’s are walnuts.  Studies have shown walnuts to be associated with better memory scores and cognitive function.  The antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline reducing the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.  Store walnuts in the refrigerator to keep the fats in them from going rancid